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Please note: The Frank Talk articles listed below contain historical material. The data provided was current at the time of publication. For current information regarding any of the funds mentioned in these presentations, please visit the appropriate fund performance page.

China: Still the World’s Number One Heavy Metal Rock Star
April 26, 2016

I want to begin with a quote from a recent Cornerstone Macro report that succinctly summarizes the research firm’s view on growth prospects in emerging markets and China specifically. Emphasis is my own:

Our most out-of-consensus call this year is the belief that China, and by extension many emerging markets, will see a cyclical recovery in 2016. We understand the bearish case for emerging markets on a multiyear basis quite well, but we also recognize that in a given year, any stock, sector or region can have a cyclical rebound if the conditions are right. In fact, we’ve already seen leading indicators of economic activity and earnings perk up in 2016 as PMIs have rebounded in many areas of the world. That is all it takes for markets, from equities to CDS, to respond more favorably as overly pessimistic views get rerated. And like in most cyclical recoveries that take place in a regime of structural headwinds, we don’t expect it to last beyond a few quarters.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll say upfront that Cornerstone’s analysis is directly in line with our own, especially where the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) is concerned. China’s March PMI reading, at 49.7, was not only at its highest since February 2015 but it also crossed above its three-month moving average—a clear bullish signal, as I explained in-depth in January.

I spend a lot of time talking about the PMI as a forward-looking indicator of commodity prices and economic activity. As money managers, we find it to be far superior to GDP in forecasting market conditions three and six months out. In the past I’ve likened it to the high beams on your car.

GDP and PMI

We were one of the earliest shops to make the connection between PMIs and future conditions, and we continue to be validated. Just last week, J.P.Morgan admitted in its morning note that “stocks are taking their cues from the monthly PMIs,” the manufacturing surveys in particular, as opposed to GDP.

We eagerly await China’s April PMI reading and are optimistic that this cyclical recovery has legs.

Cornerstone’s outlook is supported by a recent study conducted by CLSA, which found that 73 percent of “Mr. and Mrs. China” expect to be better off three years from now, while only 3 percent expect to be worse off:

Optimism is strongest among those in higher-tier cities, reflecting the disparity in economic vibrancy across tiers: as many as 80 percent of families in first-tier cities have optimistic outlook. The figure is lower, albeit still strong, at 68 percent among families in the third tier.

More than half of those surveyed said they expected to be driving a nicer car and living in a bigger home in the next few years, which is a boon for materials and metals such as platinum and palladium, used in catalytic converters.

As a reflection of growing demand for new homes, house prices in China are climbing right now in first-tier and, to a lesser extent, lower-tier cities, a sign that more and more citizens are seeking the “Chinese dream.”

Housing Prices Rising in China, Year-over-Year Growth
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China’s Insatiable Appetite for Metals

China’s appetite for metals—gold, silver, copper, iron ore and more—is growing, another sign that the Asian giant is in turnaround mode.

China is the world’s largest importer, consumer and producer of gold. Last year, physical delivery from the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) reached a record number of tonnes, more than 90 percent of total global output for 2015. Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China continues to add to its reserves nearly every month and is now the sixth largest holder of gold—the fifth largest if we don’t include the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As of this month, the bank holds 1,788 tonnes (63 million ounces) of the yellow metal, which amounts to only 2.2 percent of its total foreign reserves, according to calculations by the World Gold Council.

Now, in a move that’s sure to boost China’s financial clout in global financial markets even more, the country just introduced a new fix price for gold, one that is denominated in Chinese renminbi (also known as the yuan).

Gold is currently priced in U.S. dollars. That’s been the case for a century. But since gold demand has been shifting from West to East, China has desired a larger role in pricing the metal. The Shanghai fix price is designed with that goal in mind.

It’s unlikely that Shanghai will usurp New York and London prices any time soon, but over time it will allow China to exert greater control over the price of the commodity it consumes in vaster quantities than any other country.

China’s gold consumption isn’t the only thing turning heads. I shared with you earlier last week that the country imported 39 percent more copper in March than in the same month last year. (Shipments also rose 18.7 percent in renminbi terms in March year-over-year.)

The heightened copper demand has fueled renewed optimism in the red metal. Prices are up 6 percent month-to-date.

Housing Prices Rising in China, Year-over-Year Growth
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Caixin reports that China’s iron ore imports are surging on lower prices. In the first two months of 2016, the country purchased 86 percent more iron than it needs. What’s more, total imports were up 84 percent from the same time last year.

Steel production, which requires iron ore, is likewise ramping up.  Output is currently at 70.65 million tonnes, an increase of nearly 3 percent year-over-year.

Chinese Steel Production is on the rise
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For reasons unknown, China has also been growing its silver inventories pretty substantially for the past six months, according to an article shared on Zero Hedge. This month, as of April 19, the Shanghai Futures Exchange added a massive 1,706 tonnes, which is a 452 percent increase from the amount it added in April 2015. Shanghai silver inventories are now at their highest level ever.

Silver Mountain
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Though unconfirmed, it’s possible this silver will eventually be used in the production of solar panels, every one of which uses between 15 and 20 grams of the white metal. China is already the world’s largest market for solar energy—it surpassed Germany at the end of last year—with 43.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. (By comparison, the U.S. currently has 27.8 GW.) But get this: It plans on adding an additional 143 GW by 2020, which will require a biblical amount of silver.

Not to be outdone, India also plans significant expansion to its solar capacity, with a goal of 100 GW by 2022, according to the Indian government.

Metals Still Have Room to Rock

We know that money supply growth can lead to a rise in commodity prices. Note that Chinese money supply peaked in 2010 and has since fallen, along with commodity prices.

New Loans and M2 Money Supply in China
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New bank loans in China have spiked dramatically this year while money supply has grown more than 13 percent year-over-year, which is good for metals and manufacturing.

The increase in metals demand, not to mention the weakening of the U.S. dollar, has allowed silver to become the top performing commodity of 2016 after overtaking gold.

Metals Make Huge Gains
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Despite the rally, gold doesn’t appear to be overbought at this point, based on an oscillator of the last 10 years. We use the 20-day oscillator to gauge an asset’s short-term sentiment. When the reading crosses above two standard deviations, it’s usually considered time to sell. Conversely, when it crosses below negative two standard deviations, it might be a good idea to buy.

Silver is currently sitting at 1.2 standard deviations, suggesting a minor correction at this point would be normal.

Gold Still Has Plenty of Upside Potential, Silver Long in the Tooth?
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Time to Take Profits in Oil?

The same could be said about Brent oil, which has returned 61 percent since hitting a recent low of $27.88 per barrel in January. This has driven up the Russian ruble and energy stocks. (We’ve recently shown the correlation between world currencies and commodities.)

The rally has been so strong over the past three months that it’s signaling an opportunity to take profits or wait for a correction. Based on the 20-day oscillator, Brent’s up 1.3 standard deviations, which suggests a correction over the next three months.

Brent Crude Oil 20-Day Percent Change Oscillator
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Oil has historically bottomed in January/February. The rally this year has not disappointed. Further, it has helped many domestic banks that have been big lenders to the energy sector. High(er) oil prices translate into stronger cash flows for loans.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The S&P GSCI Total Return Index in USD is widely recognized as the leading measure of general commodity price movements and inflation in the world economy. Index is calculated primarily on a world production weighted basis, comprised of the principal physical commodities futures contracts.

Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory. The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

M2 Money Supply is a broad measure of money supply that includes M1 in addition to all time-related deposits, savings deposits, and non-institutional money-market funds.

The 100 Cities Index tracks pricing data for 100 Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities in China.

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If You’re Not Following this Energy Trend, You’re Being Left in the Dust
April 18, 2016

Investor and author Gianni Kovacevic visited USGI office this week. My Electrician Drives a Porsche book

Last week our office was visited by my friend, investor and author Gianni Kovacevic, who is at the halfway point of a cross-country book tour to promote the latest edition of “My Electrician Drives a Porsche?” As part of the tour, he’s driving a Tesla Model S from Boston to Palo Alto, California—Tesla’s hometown—to demonstrate the potential of green energy and spread his message that “the future is now.”

His book features a successful young man—the titular electrician, and an analogue of Gianni himself—who instructs his older family doctor on how to invest in the rise of the new spending class. Not only is “Electrician” a fact-filled, convincing treatise on the importance of following long-term trends in China, copper and other “financial soap operas,” it’s also a real page-turner. I urge you to grab a copy and check it out.

Copper: Beneficiary of Unprecedented Number of New Consumers

Central to the book’s thesis is a concept that is both simple and yet profound: As the size of the world’s middle class continues to grow, demand for “things that come with an electrical cord” will surge. Below is a brief excerpt:

My point is that once a group of people make the move from rural to urban, from peasant to worker and on to consumer, their way of life changes. Subsistence disappears from their vocabulary and their lives begin to revolve around the three Cs: comfort, convenience and communication. And in order to achieve any of those things, it takes a whole lot more stuff than ever before. We get a dishwasher to free up time and a television to waste it. We get an air conditioner to stay cool and a heater to stay warm. Then later on, we get other luxuries like solar panels on our roofs and newer, more modern cars. When a society achieves its very own consumer revolution, as China and the developing world are undergoing right now, life becomes less about needs and more about wants. With an unprecedented number of new consumers, these luxuries need way more stuff to make them possible.

Back in 2014, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates predicted that by 2035, there will be “almost no poor countries left in the world.” You might scoff, but for a moment let’s imagine this turns out to be the case. What effect would that have on energy demand? Millions more people joining what Gianni calls the spending class will increase the demand for millions more things—dishwashers, air conditioners, smartphones, cars—and necessitate the production of thousands more megawatts of electricity than the world currently generates.

All of which is a boon for copper. However energy is produced, the red metal is needed for conductivity. In fact, even more copper wiring is used in new energy technologies than in traditional sources. An electric car such as the Tesla Model S uses three times as much copper wiring than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

Each New Generation of Car Needs More Copper Wiring
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It was reported this week that China imported 39 percent more copper (and 13 percent more crude oil) in March than in the same time last year, a sign that the Asian giant’s appetite for commodities and energy remains strong. Despite a slowdown in GDP growth, China is still the number one importer of metals and number two consumer of oil.

China's Copper Imports Surge in March
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Shipments out of China also rebounded the most in a year, rising 11.5 percent in the first quarter. This suggests its economy fared much better than what analysts were predicting.

China Exports Surge 11.5 Percent in First Quarter
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The country’s manufacturing industry saw very welcome improvement last month as well, with the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) coming in at 49.7—still below the key 50 threshold, but the highest reading since February of last year. The PMI was also above its three-month moving average for the first time since October.

Chinese Manufacturing Edges Close to Expansion
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The Rise of the Chinese Spending Class

Consider the dramatic difference in size between college graduates in older and younger Chinese generations. According to Gianni’s book, there are 160 million people aged 56 to 65, yet this cohort has only one million graduates. Meanwhile, millennials are 415 million strong—100 million more than the entirety of the U.S. population—and of those, 107 million have college degrees. So far. As this number rises, so too will incomes as well as the desire to live a more “Western” lifestyle filled with stuff.

This new generation is not only big in size, but also big in aspirations

You can check out the entire Visual Capitalist infographic on Gianni’s website.

The Asian country’s middle class is already larger than America’s. In October, Credit Suisse reported that there are more than 109 million middle-class consumers in China, compared to 92 million in the U.S.

109 Million. For the first time, the size of China's middle class has overtaken the U.S., 109 million compared to 92 million.

Indeed, domestic consumption in China is following a staggering upward trajectory. In 2015, total retail sales touched a record, surpassing 30 trillion renminbi, or about $4.2 trillion. By 2020, sales are expected to climb to $6.5 trillion, representing 50 percent growth in as little as five years. This growth will “roughly equal a market 1.3 times the size of Germany or the United Kingdom,” according to the World Economic Forum.

By 2020, Chinese Private Consumption Will Have Grown $2.3 Trillion
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The new Chinese spending class is still very concentrated along the country’s highly-urbanized eastern coast, in megacities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong and Shenzhen. But this is changing rapidly, with 39 percent of middle-class growth shifting inland toward more rural areas by 2022, according to McKinsey & Company. This will introduce new investment opportunities as these areas will require modern roads, railways and—most important—energy infrastructure.  

Chinese Middle-Class Growth is Shifting Inland

It’s estimated that between 2010 and 2025, 300 million Chinese citizens—a little less than the entire population of the U.S.—will migrate from rural areas to cities. As Gianni points out, lifestyles drastically change when this occurs, shifting from one of subsistence to one that revolves around convenience and comfort.

Tesla Disrupts the Auto Market

Key to this migration is transportation. In 1979, there were only 60 privately-owned automobiles in China. (That’s according to a 2006 report by legendary Canadian investment strategist Don Coxe, and cited in “My Electrician Drives a Porsche?”) Fast forward to today and China is now the world’s largest auto market. More than 21.1 million passenger cars were sold in the country last year, a 7.3 percent increase from 2014. Compare that to the U.S., the number two car buyer, where sales totaled 17.5 million, an all-time record.

By the way, 2015 sales of the Toyota Corolla, one of the top-selling sedans in the U.S., were a little over 350,000. That’s slightly more than the number of preorders for the Tesla Model 3, the company’s first mass-produced vehicle, within a single week of its unveiling on March 31. In a blog post, Tesla promptly proclaimed it “the week that electric vehicles went mainstream.”

The future, as Gianni says, is indeed now.

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The Caixin China Manufacturing PMI, released by Markit Economics, is based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives in over 400 private manufacturing sector companies.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2015: Microsoft Corp.

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Rising Global Taxes and Regulations (Indirect Taxation) Are Chipping Away at the Benefits of Low Interest Money
March 21, 2016

Fracking Now Half of U.S. Crude Oil Production

During a trip to New York last week I was able to talk gold and commodities on Bloomberg TV, and also had the pleasure of hearing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address Wall Street investors in the Bloomberg studios the same day. Trudeau discussed his plan for new infrastructure spending of C$60 billion over the next 10 years, as a means to lift the country’s highly oil-dependent economy. Trudeau answered questions on his country’s federal fiscal deficit and I was able to ask him about the amount of Ontario’s debt in particular. Ontario has twice the debt as the state of California and only half of its population.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to Bloomberg in New York this weekIn the U.S., states are held to a strict balanced budget standard when it comes to fiscal taxation and spending, while the federal government can let the budget go into deficit spending. In Canada, however, it’s the opposite, and the provinces seem to have abused their debt levels, but Trudeau is ready to help.

The former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, never smiled like Justin Trudeau. But he was a great defensive leader, and his conservative leadership allowed the country to successfully weather the financial crash of 2008. Now the current government can leverage that strong balance sheet to stimulate economic activity.

During the Bloomberg conference, Trudeau sought to reassure his audience that he will remain cautious on spending.

Creeping Taxation and Negative Interest Rates Ignite Global Caution

Compliance and regulation measures have intensified from the financial sector to the food industry, from the U.S. all the way to Brazil. Many CEOs of banks, as well as brokers that I have spoken with recently, have lamented on the financial burden of excessive regulation and the indirect taxation that comes along with this rise in rules on steroids. Regulations are fueled with good intentions; however, the unexpected consequences like slow global growth need to be adjusted.

In Brazil, the government promotes short-term government bonds to fund its bloated government workforce. The anti-capitalist nature of Brazil’s government extends to extreme limitations on public markets, where new companies can only go public by offering shares at $1,000. And I’ve shared with you before how Colombia’s citizens are taxed at every turn.

Meanwhile, central bankers around the world captured headlines last week, and it looks as if easy money is here to stay for the time being, as well as high taxes and regulations. The prevailing message was that global economic conditions have not improved well enough to support any significant changes to monetary policy, which now has interest rates around the globe at near-zero or, in some cases, subzero levels.

Janet YellenThe week before last, the European Central Bank (ECB) came out with deeper cuts to already-negative rates and steeper purchases of bonds, from 60 billion euros to 80 billion euros. This was followed on Tuesday by the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) decision to leave negative rates unchanged as it assesses the impact of its controversial policy, which shocked global markets when it was unveiled in January. Likewise, the Bank of England decided on Thursday to keep interest rates at the historic low of 0.5 percent.

As I (and many others) expected, the Federal Reserve also put rates on hold, even as the U.S. economy is showing signs of improvement in employment, housing and inflation. According to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, a soft global economy made a rate hike too risky.

Be that as it may, our emphasis on central bank actions is way overdone and in many ways a distraction from what’s really important: balanced fiscal policy. Today, many investors expect central banks to jumpstart the global economy, and indeed their decisions can have huge consequences. But they can’t do it alone. What we need is a commitment to streamline regulation and relax taxes, with prudent spending on economy-boosting infrastructure, manufacturing and construction. Until that happens, it doesn’t matter how low policymakers drop rates or how much debt they purchase.

Tailwinds to Global Growth

I’ve written before about how we use the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) as a forward-looking indicator. It’s like using the high beams on your car, to see where the economy is headed three or six months from now. In the latest PMI update from February, the reading trended downward to 50.

Industrial production data came out last week down 0.5 percent in February. As I’ve discussed numerous times, industrial production is a subset of GDP, both of which indicate where the markets have been.

U.S. Industrial Production Heads Lower
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Regulations and high taxes are headwinds to global growth. Whether we are looking ahead or looking back, the data are showing slowdown in the global economy. We need a fiscal policy intervention to be the tailwind that pushes the economy in the right direction. We hope that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be signed soon, eliminating many tariffs and restrictions to trade, but it is currently held up by protests from unions. Once passed, we are optimistic the TPP will facilitate and accelerate global trade.

Gold is Smiling

The most welcome news was that the core consumer price index (CPI)—which excludes food and energy—rose 2.3 percent year-over-year in February, representing the fourth straight month of inflation and the highest rate since October 2008.

Good for Gold: Core Inflamation Heats Up
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As I’ve pointed out many times before, gold has tended to respond well when inflationary pressure pushes real interest rates below zero. To get the real rate, you subtract the headline CPI from the U.S. Treasury yield. When it’s negative, as it is now, gold becomes more attractive to investors seeking preservation of their capital. The yellow metal has risen more than 18 percent so far this year.

Other precious metals have also been strong performers in 2016, with silver up 13 percent, platinum 11 percent, and palladium 8 percent.

Good Ol’ American Ingenuity from Silicon Valley to U.S. Energy Fields

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last week that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, now accounts for a little more than half of current U.S. crude oil production. In 2000, fracking wells produced only 2 percent of the national total. Today, they make up over 50 percent of oil output—a figure that will likely continue to climb as technology improves.

Fracking Now Half of U.S. Crude Oil Production
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But since the end of 2015, overall oil production in the U.S. has begun to taper down. Last week I shared with you the fact that December’s year-over-year change in output turned negative for the first time in five years, a sign that U.S. producers are finally responding to low prices.

This decline in production is reflected in the chart below, which also shows that Iraq’s share of the global oil market has grown comparatively more than Saudi Arabia and Russia’s.

Incremental Oil Production since January 2014
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The anticipated production freeze between those two countries, therefore, probably won’t have as significant an impact on oil prices as markets are hoping for. It will only ensure that the two-million-barrels-per-day global surplus won’t get any worse.

Plus, there’s no guarantee such a freeze would stick, let alone could be agreed upon. Iran has already called the proposal “ridiculous” and plans not to reign in production until it reaches pre-sanction output levels, and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to let its chief political adversary in the region gain the upper hand.

As I’ve said before, short of geopolitics, the likeliest path to oil recovery is to coordinate a production cap on a global scale. The chances of that happening, however, are slim to none.

Tax-Free, Stress-Free Income with Calm Investing

No matter what happens with the Fed’s interest rate decisions, be sure to register for our webcast on March 30. Learn about the power of municipal bonds in uncertain rate environments.

 

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals.  The weights of components are based on consumer spending patterns.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

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Did Oil Prices Just Find a Bottom?
March 14, 2016

At 2,717 feet, Burj Khalifa looms over downtown Dubai.

At 2,717 feet, Burj Khalifa looms over downtown Dubai.

As the Middle East’s main business hub, Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and home to the world’s tallest manmade structure, the 163-story Burj Khalifa, which climbs to a neck-craning 2,717 feet. Designed by Adrian Smith, who attended Texas A&M University, the Khalifa Tower is an engineering marvel and stands as a symbol not only of the futuristic and forward-thinking look of this oil-rich country but also its emphasis on seeking intellectual capital from all over the world.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the annual Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) event, held this year in Dubai, where I learned best practices on leadership as well as how to strike the right balance between business and family life. The YPO has 24,000 peer-to-peer members who together employ 15 million people across 130 countries and generate $6 trillion in revenue every year.

It was an enriching experience, equaled only by my admiration for what the UAE has managed to accomplish with its oil revenues. Tall construction cranes can be seen in every corner of Dubai, signaling urban growth. There are plans to expand its efficient light rail system, which shuttled me from the airport to downtown for only $1. I was happy to see many of the train stations colored gold.

A sleekly designed monorail station in Dubai

Five Guys in Dubai

As is the case in China and elsewhere, spending on infrastructure is key for long-term sustainable growth. Countries and city-states such as Singapore, Hong Kong and now Dubai have spent wisely on new airports, sea ports, subways, light rail and hospitals—all wise fiscal spending that has always given the U.S. a huge advantage. With oil revenues, UAE leadership has paid for citizens to earn degrees in America and military training in the U.S., including San Antonio, Texas. The city of Dubai has a massive U.S. naval base for regional security.

The Dubai Mall, the second-largest in the world, is a wonder to explore. It contains 1,600 stores and restaurants from the U.S. and Europe and also features the Dubai Aquarium, one of the world’s largest. You truly feel as if you are in America, with the most popular restaurants being Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the Cheesecake Factory and U.S. pizza chains. I was surprised to see Tex-Mex food being delivered on motorcycles.

The Palazzo Versace is one of Dubai's leading 5-star fashion hotels.

This is the sort of extravagance and attention to detail travelers have come to expect from the country’s most popular attractions. At the Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai, for instance, visitors can beat the desert heat by relaxing in air-conditioned sand. In Abu Dhabi, the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque is believed to have the world’s largest carpet, capable of accommodating more than 44,000 worshippers. The intricate craftsmanship of the marble and gold along the walls and columns is breathtaking to behold.

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The Impact of Electronic Payments

I also want to point out that the digital banking system has made a huge impact on the UAE’s economy. I just read an article in the Khaleej Times newspaper, reporting that electronic payments have boosted the UAE’s GDP by $3.7 billion in five years. This increase is indicative of a trend of rising card usage across many countries, as you can see in the chart below.

In the same edition of the newspaper, I was interested to read that for the third year in a row, Singapore has been listed as the most expensive city in the world, followed by Zurich and Hong Kong.  According to the article, “Falling commodity prices have created deflationary pressures in some countries, but in others, currency weakness caused by these falls has led to spiraling inflation.”

Light at the End of the Tunnel? The IEA Calls a Bottom in Oil Prices

Despite its relatively small size in population and land mass, the UAE is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer, following the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and Canada. Among Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members, it’s the second-largest, after Saudi Arabia.

These rankings might very well rise in the coming years, however, as the Middle Eastern country plans to expand production between 30 and 40 percent by 2020, even as Brent crude prices have struggled to crack $40 per barrel.

But on a global scale, oil production is finally dropping—and that’s constructive for prices. In a report released on Friday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) writes that “prices might have bottomed out,” citing a February decline in both OPEC and non-OPEC output and hopes of U.S. dollar weakness.

Although I’m cautious, the current recovery is in line with oil’s seasonality trends for the five- and 15-year periods, which show that prices have risen between March and the beginning of the busy summer travel season.

West Texas Crude Oil Historical Patterns
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The PHLX Oil Service Sector Index has gained 4.4 percent since the beginning of the year, while prices have rallied above their 50-day moving average, touching three-month highs.

Oil Responds to Easonality Trend
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As the IEA points out, this rally is being spurred by optimism that OPEC and Russia can agree on a production freeze—not a cut, as some people think. A meeting date has yet to be decided upon, however, presumably because Iran announced it will not agree to an output freeze until it reaches its pre-sanction market share.

Like Iran, Saudi Arabia has resisted capping production. To plug up the deficit, it’s reportedly seeking up to $8 billion from international banks, the first time it has done so in more than a decade. The kingdom is also considering issuing foreign bonds and listing a part of its state oil company, Saudi Arabian Oil, or Aramco.

With WTI up 25 percent in 2016 and 3 percent in March, investor sentiment has improved since October, when it crossed into “panic” territory for the first time since 2011.

Investor Sentiment Improving after October Dip
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U.S. Companies Looking for $50 Per Barrel

To remain profitable, most U.S. producers need oil prices to be above $50 per barrel—a level we haven’t seen in eight months. In such an environment, U.S. oil companies are finally beginning to make meaningful production cuts, with the IEA expecting producers to remove more than half a million barrels per day from the market this year. In December, the monthly year-over-year change in production turned negative for the first time since September 2011.

U.S. Oil Production Dropping Off
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The number of North American rigs in operation fell below 400 for the first time since December 2009, according to Baker Hughes, helping to support prices.

Oil Prices Jump on Further Rig Count Declines
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Until now, per-well productivity has been slow to budge. Years of $100-per-barrel oil incentivized companies to develop new ways to extract crude, including fracking, and these technological advancements have greatly increased efficiency. Today, not only can a new well be drilled in record time, it can also produce four to five times what it could have only five years ago.

What Oil Companies Can Learn from Airlines

Highly-leveraged companies across the globe have had little choice but to trim their workforces, curb expenditures and let go of undeveloped projects. According to consulting firm AlixPartners, overall capital spending fell 20 percent in 2015, with a further decline of at least 30 percent expected this year.

Global Oil Companies Slash Exploration and Production Spending
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These adjustments, the most severe since the oil rout in the 1980s, have saved or raised global exploration and production (E&P) companies $130 billion, says Deloitte Consulting. But this won’t be enough for many companies: Nearly a third of all pure-play E&P companies worldwide are at high-risk of bankruptcy this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little over a decade ago, the airline industry also found itself in extreme duress. A large percentage of carriers landed in bankruptcy court, and a wave of consolidation swept through the industry. Today, airlines are positing record quarterly profits.

In the past year, we’ve already seen some huge mergers and acquisitions in the oil industry—think Dutch Royal Shell and BP, as well as the proposed Halliburton and Baker Hughes deal. It’s likely we’ll see many more in the coming months. In the meantime, short of geopolitical turmoil, a coordinated production cap agreement among OPEC and non-OPEC countries might be the only option to firm up prices.

 

Some links above may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content. All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

The PHLX Oil Service Sector Index (OSX) is a price weighted index composed of companies involved in the oil services sector.

The Credit Suisse Risk Appetite Index is a sentiment indicator designed by Credit Suisse comparing risk-adjusted returns across a wide spectrum of global assets.

Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2015: Baker Hughes Inc.

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Monopoly Is Going Cashless. Could We Be Next?
February 22, 2016

Monopoly is going cashless could we be next

Nearly everyone can recall playing Monopoly as a child, and for many, the game served as their first exposure to handling different denominations of cash. It was exhilarating to have someone land on your Park Place property, complete with hotel, and in turn receive a fistful of $50s and $100s.

A new generation of players might never get the chance to experience this, however, as Hasbro Gaming just released an “Ultimate Banking” version of the popular board game that nixes the funny money in favor of play credit cards and an electronic scanner.

You could argue it’s just a game, but Monopoly has always had a reputation for being a reflection of capitalism as it operates in the “real” world (which is why it was banned in communist states such as the Soviet Union). The cashless version of the game is no exception, as it comes at a time when calls to limit—or in some cases eliminate—the use of cash are intensifying. And to be clear, “cash” here means cash in your pocket, not cash in the bank.

Just last week, former treasury secretary Larry Summers published an op-end in the Washington Post arguing it’s time to “kill the $100 bill,” the reason being that it’s preferred by those involved in money-laundering, corruption and other illegal activity. (One million dollars denominated in $100 bills weighs 2.2 pounds, he points out, whereas the same amount in $20 bills weighs a much more cumbersome 50 pounds.) The European Union, he argues, should also consider getting rid of the 500-euro note, a position that’s echoed by European anti-fraud officials.

Bye-Bye Benjamin?

Having had the opportunity to hear Secretary Summers speak when I visited Harvard recently, I respect his opinion and believe his intentions are good. But ultimately the argument to eliminate the $100 bill is based on the presupposition that anyone using such a note is a drug trafficker or money launderer. This seems to go against one of the main tents of common law, namely, that we’re innocent until proven guilty.  

The risks far outweigh the benefits when you consider where this anti-cash sentiment is leading us—a cashless society. As I discussed back in December regarding Sweden’s own trend toward a cashless economy, every transaction could be monitored, not to mention taxed and charged a fee. Accounts could be frozen, which, in a cashless world, would leave you with nothing.

I’ve experienced the inconvenience that sometimes comes with electronic transactions, as I’m sure many of you have. Occasionally my credit card couldn’t be read for one reason or another, and if you’re not carrying cash, what do you do? When I’m traveling, domestically or abroad, I always carry cash with me, and $100 bills are much more convenient than a pound of $20s.

Capital controls are nothing new, but they would be much easier to impose. In Colombia, a tax is levied on every transaction, whether it is a direct deposit from your employer, transfer of funds between accounts or a purchase. Since 2003, Venezuela’s government has significantly regulated the amount of money citizens can take with them on trips abroad, in effect blocking access to foreign travel. Currently the limit is $2,000, but for travelers headed to the U.S., it drops to $700. This, along with a labyrinthine exchange rate (there are three), has only created a black market currency exchange. And since credit cards in Venezuela are issued by state-run banks, there’s no stopping the government from restricting payment on any goods or services, or from any vendor, it wishes.

Colombia and Venezuela are extreme cases, and there’s no reason to expect the same would ever happen in the U.S. At the same time, scrapping the $100 bill would further debase Americans’ economic liberty.

Gold Shines on Stellar Consumer Price Index (CPI) Reading

These concerns might be part of the reason why gold and silver coin sales are doing so well right now. The U.S. Mint began selling out of its popular American Eagle coins late last year, and demand is exceeding the mint’s weekly allocation of 1 million ounces. In Australia—where four out of five respondents to a recent poll said the country would be cash-free by 2022—gold coin sales surged 106 percent in January 2016 from a year earlier; silver coin sales, 151 percent.

Australians Load Up on Gold and Silver Coins
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Buying gold in times of uncertainty and instability is not just tradition—it’s rational behavior. The yellow metal has a long history of acting as an effective store of value.

This is especially the case with nominal interest rates turning negative around the globe. More than a fifth of the world’s GDP is now produced in countries with subzero rates, and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently stated that the Fed will not take such rates off the table for consideration.

Key Negative Interest Rates
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Negative rates are essentially a tax on your bank deposits, intended to discourage saving. And if hard cash were no longer available to squirrel away in your mattress, gold might be the only other option.

But nominal rates aren’t the only driver. Numerous times I’ve written and spoken about gold’s relationship with real interest rates, which is what you get when you subtract headline inflation from the government bond yield. When inflation rises, real rates are pushed lower, and when they turn negative, gold becomes more attractive. Last week the Labor Department reported that core inflation in January increased 0.3 percent, its largest monthly gain since August 2011, when gold reached its all-time high of $1,900 per ounce. For the 12-month period, the consumer price index (CPI) hit an impressive 2.2 percent, its strongest showing since June 2012. Both of these readings beat analysts’ estimates and should be constructive for gold.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Also helping the metal’s appeal last week was the uncertainty surrounding whether the United Kingdom would exit the European Union. Momentum had been growing behind the “Brexit” campaign to end economic control from Brussels, with a majority of respondents to a British poll saying they were in favor of leaving the 28-member bloc. On Friday, however, Prime Minister David Cameron managed to secure a deal giving the UK “vital protections” to its economy, including never having to bail out any other EU member if it chooses not to. Gold ended the trading day up 2.3 percent to settle at $1,228.60 per ounce.

Oil Prices Aligned with Seasonality Trade

Oil was up last week with prices rising above their 50-day moving average, mostly on a production cap agreement between the world’s two largest producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Historically, oil bottoms every February, and today it’s right on cue. We are now due for a rally until Easter at least, possibly until the beginning of summer.

West Texas Crude Oil Historical Patterns
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Another factor to consider is money supply. Based on our own regression analysis, there’s a high correlation between money supply growth in the seven most populous countries and commodity prices. If you look back to 2011, when oil averaged $100 per barrel and gold peaked at $1,900, money supply was strong. Since then it’s been falling, particularly in China, as you can see below. But with money supply on the upswing, we might have a good chance for a rally here.

Will Commodity Prices Continue to Track China's Money Supply Growth?
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Besides continued oversupply, oil’s most significant headwind remains the U.S. dollar. As it has gained in strength, emerging market currencies have declined.

U.S. Dollar's Uptrend Still Intact, Emerging Markets Weaken
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As always, it’s important to follow the smart money. Just as influential “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban went long on gold recently, we’ve seen big-name investors place their bets that oil prices will climb. It was widely-reported last week that billionaires Warren Buffett, George Soros and hedge fund manager David Tepper all disclosed buying shares of Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based oil and gas pipeline company. Buffett’s stake alone amounts to 26.5 million shares, currently valued at around $450 million.

In the meantime, low oil prices continue to give a lift to transportation stocks such as airlines, many of which reported record net profits for the fourth quarter.  Be sure to subscribe to my blog, Frank Talk, to learn more about oil and other commodities.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

The consumer price index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals. The weights of components are based on consumer spending patterns. M2 money supply is a broad measure of money supply that includes M1 in addition to all time-related deposits, savings deposits, and non-institutional money-market funds.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index is made up of 22 exchange-traded futures on physical commodities. The index represents 20 commodities, which are weighted to account for economic significance and market liquidity. The J.P. Morgan EM Currencies Index is a tradable benchmark for emerging markets currencies vs. the U.S. dollar.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2015: Hasbro Inc.

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Net Asset Value
as of 11/22/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.97 0.03 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.36 No Change World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $5.76 0.03 China Region Fund USCOX $12.18 0.03 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $7.09 0.04 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.06 -0.05 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $21.36 -0.06 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.21 -0.01 U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change